Anti-Gay Comments: A Tale of Two Opportunists

Update: Brendan Eich stepped down shortly after writing this, Mozilla issued and apology to all offended parties. 

When Thorsten Heins was appointed CEO of Blackberry in early 2012, the company’s stock went down. The shareholders questioned his ability to lead or turn the struggling tech company around. When Mozilla announced Brendan Eich’s promotion from CTO to CEO last week, three board members resigned and employees throughout the company voiced their opinions that Eich should step down. This time, the reasons weren’t professional; they were because Eich donated $1,000 in 20008 to support Proposition 8 – the California ban on gay marriage.

Eich, who is also known as the inventor of JavaScript,  is standing by his promotion, and announced that he will not step down unless the board asks him to. He says that his qualifications for the job should not be based on his personal beliefs. In a blog post, he promised that Mozilla will remain a place that supports everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

okcupidmozillalgbtqWhile the audience who is aware of this promotion and Eich’s political history is limited to those in the tech, business and LGBTQ activist worlds, OkCupid is trying to spread the word to its Mozilla-using members. When a user signs on using Mozilla, they’re greeted with a banner that explains Eich’s stance and asks users to choose another browser.

If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site. However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid: Google Chrome, Internet Exploder, Opera, Safari.

No, typo-spotting friends, I did not mean Internet Explorer. That was OkCupid’s way of connecting with its IE-loathing millennial audience.

Users were able to continue on to Mozilla, but this was OkCupid’s opportunity to draw in a new audience and win favor with its current one. A stance like this might pull users away from Plenty of Fish or Tinder for their free digital dating needs.

Anti-Gay Comments are the New Sex Scandals

We’ve seen politically reactive marketing before. Last year, the chairman of Barilla group, Guido Barilla, explianed his stance on same-sex marriage loud and clear:

For us, the ‘sacral family’ remains one of the company’s core values. Our family is a traditional family. If gays like our pasta and our advertising, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta… The women are crucial in this.

Not only did this quote simultaneously attack the LGBTQ community and reinforce the gender roles of women in the home, it also spoke on behalf of the entire company’s beliefs and values. Now anyone who works for Barilla would be associated with these comments as they work day-to-day and live the company’s core values.

While he eventually apologized (on Twitter) the damage was done. #BoicottaBarilla was trending and the company’s competitors were starting to brainstorm.

Buitoni and Bertolli released ads on Facebook proclaiming “Pasta for All” as they hoped to bite into the share of the gay pasta-eating market. One man’s comments lead to headaches for his marketing and PR staff and opportunities for his direct competitors.

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Tom-ay-to Sauce, Tom-ah-to Sauce?

While the stances by Eich and Barilla are the same, there is one interesting difference between OkCupid and the competing pasta companies: the success or failure of OkCupid has little to do with the popularity or use of Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla could own 10 percent of the market share or 90 percent and the OkCupid user-base would mostly remain unchanged. Meanwhile, if 50 percent of Barilla consumers decide to boycott, there is a direct opportunity for Buitoni and Bertolli to claim that market.

One party (the party of Buitoni and Bertolli) is taking advantage of the weakness of its direct competitor. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the pasta industry and they’re doing all they can. The other party, OkCupid, is newsjacking topical content to gain publicity and court new users. In my opinion, this move is just as tacky as profiting off of the missing Malaysian Airlines jet. The politics has nothing to do with it. Am I wrong?

About the author

Amanda Dodge